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2002 Pontiac G-Force Concept and Lutz
PONTIAC UNVEILS ITS FUTURE
There’s something missing at Pontiac—the three-grooved cladding that has long adorned (and some would say ‘scarred’) the side of its products. The automaker unveiled a new and more contemporary look on three models shown in Chicago. “The G-Force shows the evolving direction for Pontiac,” declared General Motors product czar Bob Lutz. With only minor changes, the thinly disguised concept will go into production a year from now as the next-generation 2004 Grand Prix sedan. Along with the cleaner sideview, the G-Force boasts a more pronounced wedge shape than the current Grand Prix, a shortened rear deck lid, sculpted taillamps—and in keeping with Pontiac’s image as the GM performance division, it boasts a lot more power than the current GP. The supercharged V-6 under the hood gives the prototype 280 hp and a 155-mph top speed. “That may be theoretical in the United States, but if it gets you there fast enough,” suggested Lutz, “who cares.” The G-force features an array of high-tech hardware, including GM’s StabiliTrak system, which will also be available on the ’04 Grand Prix. The new model will start in the low-$20,000 range, according to Brand Manager Bob Kraut, “slightly less” than the current GP.
In related news, Kraut told TheCarConnection that due to steadily declining sales, it’s become increasingly likely that Pontiac will abandon the Grand Prix coupe with the debut of the 2004 sedan. There is no update in development for the two-door model, he noted, adding that the goal was to give the sedan a sportier, four-door coupe-like look.
2002 Pontiac G/XP concept
2003 Pontiac Sunfire
Pontiac’s goal is to not only reinforce its image as a “performance” brand, but to draw in a broader range of buyers, including the hip Boomers and Gen Xers who’ve been opting for performance imports, ranging from slammed Honda Civics to sleek Lexus coupes. GM used Chicago as a backdrop for a new Pontiac Sunfire that will, with the debut of the 2003 model, bring a rather extreme makeover to the entry-level compact. Along with its more aerodynamic exterior, the ’03 boasts modest upgrades to its interior. And at the high end of the Pontiac product range, there’s the Bonneville G/XP. In keeping with a Lutz mandate, the new concept sedan was brought from drawing board to show car in just four months. It features a 270-hp supercharged V-6, smoked lamp covers and an integrated spoiler. “We’re working to bring it to market next year as a specialty car,” said Pontiac General Manager Lynn Myers.
2002 Hyundai HCD-7 Equus concept
HCD-7: THE LOOK OF LUXURY?
Another extreme-looking vehicle that’s much further from production is Hyundai’s HCD-7 Equus concept, meant to define the company’s goal if it should decide to produce a true luxury vehicle for markets outside South Korea. Inspired, says Hyundai, by the fuselage of an aircraft, the five-passenger design sports blacked-out A-pillars and vertical taillamps and headlights, along with massively flared wheel arches and a minimalist interior, where most functions are controlled through a central display. The concept sports a 270-hp V-8 and a five-speed automatic, as well as 21-inch wheels.
HYUNDAI SETS SIGHTS HIGHER
With sales setting one record after another, Hyundai is looking for ways to keep the momentum going, company officials told TheCarConnection. An assortment of new and updated products, such as the redesigned Tiburon, will be hitting the U.S. market this year, though there’s likely to be a “quiet period” to follow for about 18 months, acknowledged U.S. product development chief David Ossenmacher. That will be followed by a flood of vehicles: “The future is light truck solutions,” Ossenmacher hinted, but he stressed that Hyundai will try to find unique designs and niches, rather than simply mimic the sedans, minivans and crossovers offered by its competition. “I think wagons are coming back,” he added. Meanwhile, Senior EVP Byung Ho Sung revealed that Hyundai is looking at the possibility of boosting sales to as much as 500,000 a year in the U.S. Last year, volume surged 42 percent, to 346,235. That put it in the number five import spot, only 9000 units behind Volkswagen. To get to its goal, Hyundai will be building a new U.S. assembly plant. The Korean carmaker intends to choose between four states under consideration by June of this year.
Hyundai Narrows Plant Search by Joseph Szczesny (1/28/2002)
2003 Kia Sorento
KIA SORENTO REPLACES SPORTAGE
While sister company Hyundai is soaring, Kia isn’t being left behind. Last year the other Korean brand sold more than 223,000 vehicles in the U.S, making it larger than luxury brands like Lexus, Cadillac and BMW. The surge in sales should continue with the Sorento, the company’s new sport-utility vehicle. Though it occupies the same niche as Hyundai’s own Santa Fe sport-ute, Kia officials say there’s enough distinction between the vehicles to keep buyers interested in both. The Sorento is a ladder-frame vehicle with rear- or four-wheel drive, they point out, while the Santa Fe is a front- or all-wheel-driver built with unibody construction. The Sorento also features a 3.5-liter V-6 with 190 hp, teamed to a four-speed automatic. Either a part-time or a full-time four-wheel-drive system can be specified. Standard on both the Sorento and uplevel Sorento EX are air conditioning, power features, an eight-speaker stereo system and a split-folding rear seat.
2003 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra
FORD’S NEW SNAKE BITES
“The venom is back in the Cobra,” declared Jim O’Connor, general manager of the flagship Ford division. The latest incarnation of the SVT Mustang Cobra made an auspicious debut, spinning its tires and filling McCormick Place with rubbery smoke. The performance version of the ’03 Mustang will boast 390 hp from its supercharged 4.6-liter V-8, and it will blast from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, says Ford. Ford expects to limit sales to just 12,000 coupes and convertibles. The SVT edition comes close to the performance of the track-ready Cobra-R offered last year, “but with all the amenities,” declared Ford’s performance engineering guru, John Colletti. The R was a performance stripper, without even a radio in its bare-bones passenger compartment. Referring to GM’s decision to drop its own muscle cars, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, Colletti declared, “The 38-year pony wars are over, and Mustang wins.”
2002 Mazda Miata SE
MAZDA MAINTAINS TRADITION
The Miata has become a Chicago tradition. Mazda’s little roadster was introduced in the Windy City, and over the decade since, the Japanese automaker has come back every year to unveil a special, limited-edition version of the Miata. This year was no exception, except that Mazda showed two Special Edition models, one in titanium silver other in blazing yellow. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, custom wheels and a high-output sound system, Mazda intends to sell about 2500 of the Special Edition models this year.
2002 Jeep Liberty Renegade
A RENEGADE IN LIBERTY DUDS
Jeep’s Liberty has been a success, the company says, and continues to sell without rebates or incentives. To keep its momentum, Jeep introduced the hardcore Renegade edition to Chicago crowds. The Renegade features the same 3.7-liter, 210-hp V-6 of the stock Liberty, but adds off-road essentials like a 150,000-candlepower light bar (isn’t that enough to cook a Jiffy Pop?), fender covers, a two-color grille and side steps. Aluminum interior trim and new wheels complete the package.
JEEP COULD CARRY THE LOAD FOR CHRYSLER
Expect as many as two new models from Jeep in the next couple years, hinted Chrysler Group product development director Tom Marinelli. But the new sport-utes will likely signal a change in direction for the DaimlerChrysler division. As TheCarConnection has reported, Jeep has decided all its products no longer need to be ready to survive the roughest possible off-road courses—what was known internally as the Rubicon Challenge, referring to the rugged California trail favored by seasoned off-roaders. The Compass, first shown at the Detroit auto show last month, is one possible example of a future Jeep “soft-ute,” according to Marinelli, who said in Chicago that “we think we can stretch the Jeep brand more.” That would be critical, he added, if Chrysler is to meet the goal set forth by CEO Dieter Zetsche. The German executive wants to boost Chrysler sales by one million units a year later in the decade, and growing Jeep is seen as a critical part of getting there.
GM WANTS MORE FROM CTS
General Motors will take a hard look at building more of the Cadillac CTS. "You can nitpick this and nitpick that, but the car is an overwhelming success," said GM vice chairman Robert Lutz. Gary Cowger, the president of General Motors North American Operations, said that, given the fact that the cars are now in very short supply, GM is considering bringing on the second shift at the automaker's brand new Grand River assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., ahead of schedule. A decision could come as soon as April, added Cowger. Getting the additional components ordered and other considerations will require another four to six months, which means it would actually be late summer or early fall before the Grand River plant could actually operate on two shifts. GM originally had planned to add the second shift next year. Lutz also told reporters GM was "looking for ways to add a little more luxury" to the CTS' interior. Lutz, however, seemed to throw cold water on the idea of turning the Cadillac Cien show car into a production vehicle. GM builds about half-dozen concept vehicles every year but it can't afford to put all of them into production, he said: "There are a lot of different reasons for building a show car," he told reporters.
ITALIANS TO GIVE CADDY A LIFT
General Motors Corp. has asked an Italian design house to prepare the design for a concept car that would be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2003, GM vice chairman Robert Lutz told reporters. "It's a very important vehicle to us," he said. Lutz, however, declined to identify which design firm got the assignment or the brand and identity of the vehicle. Some things still have to be kept secret, he said. Lutz said last month he intended to use more outside design houses to prepare new designs for GM. Chrysler used outside designers successfully when it was developing its LH sedans in the very early 1990s, Lutz revealed, and the competition between the outside and in-house designers helps improve the final product. Lutz also said he wasn't sure the mid-size crossovers and tall wagons that have been unveiled in Detroit, such as the Chrysler Pacifica, and the CrossTrainer that Ford confirmed it will build in Chicago starting in 2004, will be quite as popular as some observers think. "I just don't expect that to be a two-million unit segment," added Lutz, who noted the Buick Rendezvous already seem to fit nicely into the segment.
PORSCHE TO HELP SAVE OLD ROADS
Porsche has enlisted the help of actor James Brolin in an innovative effort to save old trails and roads across the United States. The Cayenne Crossing Initiative will be chaired by Brolin and will work with governmental, environmental and preservation groups across the U.S. to restore and maintain unique roads. "Nearly two years ago, Porsche invited me to join a small group of journalists to cross the Mojave Road," Brolin told audiences at the Chicago show. “One of the impressions I took away is that historic trails like the Mojave Road wouldn't exist without the efforts of the dedicated groups to maintain the trails. Maintaining the trails means protecting the environment, which we’re losing little by little," Brolin added. Bob Carlson, Porsche spokesman, said Tread Lightly!, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on having fun outdoors with minimal impact on the environment, will also help coordinate the off-road portion of the Cayenne Crossing Initiative. Carlson added Porsche envisions the commitment to the Cayenne Crossing Initiative extending for a number of years. The first projects will include the restoration of Clark's Grade, a trail in Southern California's San Bernardino National Forest that leads up to Big Bear Lake. Porsche also will help pay for the construction of a bridge over Peter's Mill Creek, a trout stream in Virginia's George Washington National Forest, which is threatened by off-road vehicle traffic. Another project will involve the construction of three information kiosks that will identify and communicate the history of Route 66. The project has been endorsed by the non-profit California Route 66 Preservation Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the history of Route 66.